When you think of popular comic book teams, you’re bound to think of the X-Men. There’s no argument that the team of mutants isn’t iconic – they’ve been around for decades, featuring in tons of unique comics titles, dozens of team rosters, and many films. Comic book superheroes have had enormous success on the big screen. Looking at some of the most commercially successful heroes, characters like Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and the Avengers have all had iconic film under their belt. For this analysis, we will be looking into the legacy of the X-Men films under 21st Century Fox.
Now that the era of Fox’s X-Men films are coming to an end within a couple of years, with Disney’s acquisition of Fox all but completed, the legacy of the 11 X-Films under Fox can be looked back on. The X-Men movies have ranged from great to terrible. Fox has made some brilliant films with the X-Men franchise but also had some bumps along the road. The original X-Men Trilogy, had an enormous influence on all future comic book films to come. Starting with X-Men (2000), this franchise was the rebirth of comic book films for the modern era, paving the way for Spider-Man, Batman Begins and more. The X-Trilogy has had great moments, especially in its first two films with the third derailing the franchise for a few years. Perhaps the greatest achievements from Fox comes with Logan and X-Men: Days of Future Past. These are films that that Marvel Studios probably would never have made or considered with their current infrastructure. The themes of Logan in particular are unlike any other comic book film and has firmly places itself as one of the greatest comic book films ever made, with serious tones, brutal action sequences but a focus on the characters and their place in the world. In many ways, the X-Men franchise has thrived when it doesn’t operate in classic superhero tropes.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best film in the franchise when it comes to human/mutant interactions, something that is crucial to what the X-Men stand for and the allegories that they represent. This is one key area where Fox has dropped the ball in many of its films but X-Men: Days of Future Past delivers on. The X-Men aren’t made up of just any ordinary individuals, what makes them interesting is that they’re outcasts. Mutants aren’t treated as equal to humans, and X-Men Days of Future Past expertly tackles this dynamic and created an iconic film.
As said before, Fox’s X-Men legacy has its share of good and bad. Among the missteps I feel the franchise has made, one is the lack of a team identity. Too many films of the series are completely reliant on just a couple of characters to carry them through. Even one of my favorite X-Men movies, Days of Future Past, doesn’t include an actual team in the spirit of the comics, and the films that should, like the original trilogy, barely touch on that aspect at all. Of the 11 X-Franchise films, Wolverine, Xavier, and Magneto are the only characters given true emotional weight and character development. While actors like Jackman, Stewart, and McKellen are all fantastic in those roles, you can’t help but want a little bit more of the classic team-up dynamic, especially considering that Cyclops is traditionally the leader in almost every comic roster he’s ever been in. I do give credit to X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse for improving on this aspect.
Speaking of X-Men: Apocalypse, I believe that this film was definitely not the direction the franchise needed to go. X-Men: Days of Future Past was a last hurrah to the original trilogy, and combined two eras of X-Men films but unfortunately X-Men: Apocalypse does not measure up. This film should’ve been a fresh and new outlook for the X-Men franchise, but instead went in for the same tropes and storytelling path that the original X-Men Trilogy went on. This was, in my opinion, the the downfall for the main X-Men films. If not for the financially and critically successful Deadpool, Logan, and Deadpool 2, the entire franchise would be on life support. With Jackman’s Wolverine off the screen seemingly for good, Fox has given the indication that, Deadpool, a film with minimal ties to the main series, is single-handedly running the show now.
Looking into the future, the X-Men series seemed to be changing its ways, with the development of a horror film in New Mutants, and movies like Multiple Man and Gambit originally in the works, however, the actual X-Men still needs to deliver on what might be the final film of Fox’s X-Men universe, X-Men: Dark Phoenix. Now that the deal between Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox has gone through, the X-Men franchise, in one way or another, will be moving to Marvel Studios. It is unknown what their exact plans will be for these classic characters, but bringing them over has the potential to give the X-Men a fresh and new start. In movies like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy the team aspect is a heavy focus and that is exactly what the X-Men needs right now. Regardless of which studio is running the show, there needs to be more focus on how the human world views mutants, and the mutant struggle as a whole. These have always been major plot points for the comics and it’s one of the main reasons why the X-Men are as iconic as they have been.
Overall I think the legacy of Fox’s X-Men franchise was positive but with bumps along the road. We got films that paved the way for comic book movies like X-Men, and X2, films almost derailed the franchise like X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Origins, films that refreshed and renewed the true glory of the franchise with X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, and films that defied expectations and changed the formula like Deadpool and Logan. While not perfect and with mistakes along the way, I still think Fox’s overall legacy with the X-Men was important and worth seeing. I am looking forward to how Marvel Studios will use these iconic characters going forward. The future looks very bright.